International

Brussels, ma belle[1]

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Jean Quatremer, French journalist and correspondent in Belgium and the European Union for “Liberation”

Recently, Jean Quatremer non-deliberately provoked a controversy on the last week.

The French daily “Liberation” newspaper correspondent in Belgium and the European Union wrote on his blog an article on Brussels, the city he has lived for twenty years and the (very relative) cleanliness of the Belgian capital city. In his article, he denounces the dirtiness of the city with its bulky objects on the streets, dog excrements, its smashed open avenues, car accidents, insecurity, and bins thrown with some anarchy in some communes of the city.

The Jean Quatremer’s Belgian Francophone colleagues rapidly noticed his article and vehemently criticized the French journalist. Le Soir, the famous French speaking daily, questioned Quatremer’s arguments, doing fact checking while La Libre Belgique, other famous daily, insists on the warm, living and open aspect of Brussels to tackle what it should be considered a crime of lèse-majesté made by Quatremer better.

Although some arguments should be moderated, the Quatremer’s article is still very relevant and confirms the impressions some foreigners living in the Belgian capital city had since a moment. Brussels remains dirty, depressive, impeded and often impracticable as remind the usual and bothering morning Rue de La loi car traffics, a sector of Brussels already charged by some work constructions as the new European Council building or the future train regional express network (RER), because of a share of competences still so complicated.

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Indeed, and as Jean Quatremer underlines very well, Brussels is the victim of a succession of laws and a war of competences between communes, regions, linguistic communities and Federal state, aftermath of a Belgian federalist system which becomes stupider and stupider and has an impact on daily life as I could experience when I lived in Brussels, five years ago. As the French journalist says, Brussels, contrary to Paris, is made of nineteen independent towns having important competences in police or public hygiene for instance. Moreover, the Bruxelles-Capitale regional government, Federation Wallonie-Bruxelles (former Communauté française de Belgique, representing the Belgian French speaking people living in Wallonia or Brussels) and the Flemish community are still struggling to keep and exercise their respective competences on and about Brussels rather than cooperating better in the interest of a capital city which can’t play with the big boys fully.

Because Brussels, thanks to its status as “capital city” of Europe, has all the potential to be an international, not to say a world city and not only a city for EU civil servants missing their country. Instead of this, Brussels undergoes Francophone and Flemish communities quarrels and also some communes disputes as Bruxelles-Ville and Schaerbeek or Brussel-Stad and Elsene (Ixelles in French), for instance, which weakens more a city still suffocating in its current organisation and wants to enlarge. But it is without taking into account the will of Flanders which has blocked since a long moment any extension of Brussels, on the behalf of its territorial integrity.

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Consequently, Brussels, instead of playing with the big boys and being a serious challenger to Paris, London or Amsterdam, is still blocked by intestine wars to the great displeasure of some people allowing to Jean Quatremer to put his arguments on Brussels forward. Finally, it is maybe good if Belgian people are felt concerned, because it is maybe true. Perhaps the occasion to think about the future of the Belgian capital city with seriousness, due to the emergency of the situation.

PS : And for those who want to understand, a little bit, the Belgian federal system, here an interesting animated film written, two years and half ago, by Marcel Sel, a famous Belgian blogger, showing all the complexity of this charming land! 😉


[1] Inspired from ‘’Michelle, ma belle’’ by The Beatles. You can listen to the song just below.

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